Friday, October 13, 2017

Even Vegans Die. But Not Today.

tl;dr – Kindness should be our baseline.

My good friend (and One Step advisor) Ginny Messina recently co-authored a book entitled Even Vegans Die. If you haven’t read the book, it is important for at least two reasons. The first is that because of our understandable anger, many vegans are simply cruel (1, 2, 3), especially regarding health issues (even to other vegans). The second is that not feeling healthy as a veg is the leading cause of recidivism. Many vegans oversell their diet as the cure-all; when meat-eaters go vegetarian and feel worse, they go back to eating animals. Furthermore, they tell all their friends and family about how terrible vegetarianism is. This is one of the main reasons the percentage of the population who are veg has basically not changed in decades, and, more importantly, that per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high.

Many if not most of my friends have learned to avoid the vegan fanatics online and elsewhere. In their book, Ginny and her co-authors give examples of the cruelty of many vegans, so I won’t go into depth here ... except for one story. Once a person attacked me for promoting this graph:

saying I would lead to more people getting Crohn’s disease by “promoting” dairy. Little did they know that I have had Crohn’s for decades, and had developed it well after being vegan. I know so many others who developed Crohn’s after going vegan that it is frightening. Sometimes, if I mention having Crohn’s, someone will come along and tell me I need to just go vegan. Some even imply I deserve the disease for not being vegan.

Now to my personal update.

Note: I had not planned to have any of the below known publicly. But for a variety of reasons, the story is creeping around, and I’d rather people hear it from me instead of as a rumor. Also, a wise person reminded me it is arrogant to try to do utilitarian calculations on one’s friends.

During track season at Pomona College in 2013, our kid EK (and lifelong vegan) developed costochondritis.

Thus, when I started having some discomfort in my chest upon running, I thought it was that. When I saw my new primary care physician, he did an EKG (all fine). Given my age (49), my 30+ years as a vegetarian, my fitness (regular vigorous exercise), and my low blood pressure (~110/70 on average), he was trying to figure out some skeletal-muscular explanation. That didn’t pan out, but again, my history and the EKG argued against anything to do with the heart. I went to the pulmonologist to see if there was anything going on with my oh-so-wonderful left lung after its multiple collapses. When the pulmonologists didn’t find anything, he sent me to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist scheduled a stress test for Sept 28. I failed that badly; they immediately scheduled me to go to the catheterization lab on Friday, Oct 6 at the local hospital. At that time, angioplasty with contrast would allow them to look inside the arteries and determine what was going on (below), and if I could get by with a stent (or stents) or if I needed open-heart surgery and bypass.

They also put me on beta blockers (which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure). The next day, Sept 29, I went back to the cardiologist’s for an echocardiogram. That was perfect – could not have been better: muscle strong, valves all in good shape, aorta looked perfect.

Side note back to my lead point about vegans: I asked a vegan medical professional what preparation advice they would have if someone might be having bypass surgery in a week. This person basically said not to have the surgery, but instead go vegan. I asked what to do if that wasn’t an option and I never heard back.

After a very stressful week, Anne and I got to the hospital at 4:45am on Friday the 6th for a 7am procedure. I watched the screen as the doctor did the angiogram and checked (with contrast) every aspect of the heart. One 8 mm section of a major vessel was 95+% blocked (occluded). This was entirely obvious even to my untrained eye – it was so bad I thought I must be misinterpreting what I was seeing.

Similar to mine. Yikes!

Given that only one tiny segment of an artery had any blockage at all, the doctor speculates that sometime in the past, somewhere in this small segment, there might have been some kind of injury (maybe a virus, maybe Crohn’s related) that caused it to accumulate deposits. A close (vegan) friend of mine had died in his sleep in his 30s and the autopsy showed his heart had been damaged by an infection when he had been a child. I’ve heard other bizarre stories as well.

But everything else was absolutely fine – no sign of disease anywhere in any of the other arteries. The entire occlusion was between arterial branches, so the doctor was able to stent it (so no open-heart surgery). I watched as he retested that artery after the stent, and blood flow was 100%. It was amazing (here is what it looks like in a broad view). The doctor then closely checked all the other coronary arteries again, and they were all perfectly clear. While I was still on the table, the nurse gave me a big dose of aspirin and Plavix, another blood thinner. I had also taken my beta blocker that morning (foreshadowing).

So at this point (about 9 am Friday, Oct 6), I was absolutely ecstatic. Heart was fine, muscle was strong, valves all good, and all arteries fixed or clear. I was discharged at 3 pm and Anne drove me home.

But of course, you know it doesn’t end like that.

At some point after we went to bed Friday night, I got up and walked into our bathroom. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor. I must have passed out. In retrospect, I should not have gotten up on my own, being on blood thinners and beta blockers (on top of low blood pressure to begin with). It just hadn’t occurred to me to worry about it – I had walked around fine during the day.

EK suggests I always wear one of these now.

I hit the back of my head (I have a contusion there) and utterly mangled my torso. A later CT scan showed I cracked one rib. It hurt to breathe and was agony to move at all. After I realized this wasn’t just a temporary injury, I had Anne take me to the Emergency Department, and we got there at 2:30am on Saturday morning.

Over the almost 8 hours we were there, they gave me morphine (did nothing), Fentanyl (helped a little), and, at the end, Dilaudid (also helped a little). I had a CT scan of my head and chest. That is where they found one cracked rib (I still can’t believe only one). The stent was still in place.

But of course, that’s still not enough. Here is the kicker: CT scan revealed a small pneumothorax in my lower left lung.

Yes, that’s right: a small section of my left lung is collapsed. Again. #3.

Yes, this is the lung they cut a portion out of after my second lung collapse in 2014. This is the lung they glued in place so it could never collapse again. They can’t tell if this pneumothorax was from the fall, or if it had been there before. Dealing with that is further down the road. I certainly couldn’t feel it (and still can’t) – the rest of my pain is just overwhelming.

I am still in a great deal of pain, but it is somewhat better day-by-day. Ultimately, though, the bottom-line take-away is good: like Crohn’s and never-ending lung collapses, the damage to this one tiny segment of my artery was just a fluke. Because of the miracles of modern medicine, it was found and fixed. Once I heal up from my fall, I can go back to hiking, running, and biking – there will be no lingering issues.

Again, I didn’t want to publicize this, because I think it creates more suffering for my friends than glee for those who loathe me and One Step. Saying all this is self-indulgent, and doesn’t help us help animals. But if you take one thing away from this story, though, please let it be that our baseline should be kindness. If you take away something else, realize that decades of veganism, healthy living, and relative youth won’t protect you from heart disease, lung collapses, Crohn’s, chronic back pain, or even tinnitus.

All the more reason to be kind to one another.

My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported me and Anne through all this, and everything else we’ve gone through since March 2014. As another long-time friend sent:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
-William Penn


Brian said...

Nooo! I didn't hear about the lung. Get well soon Matt!

Matt Ball said...

Thanks Brian.

Kim W Stallwood the Grumpy Vegan said...

Matt: So sorry to learn about you not being well. Truly hope you make a full recovery. Kim

Matt Ball said...

Thanks, Kim. I appreciate your good wishes!

Unknown said...

Sending you my wishes for health and vitality, ease with what life offers you, and freedom from fear and harm. You are worthy of all these things Matt. May all of the good you are doing and have done return karmically in this lifetime. - ari

VeganLinda said...

Thank you for sharing. I hope you continue to heal and the pain goes away. I'm sorry that compassion and kindness is not the baseline for everyone. Thank you for everything you do for the animals. Strength to you and your family.

Judith Lautner said...

This is an important story. Thank you for sharing it and its implications.

Mike said...

A friend of mine passed a number of years ago and someone told his grieving husband that it wouldn't have happend if he had been vegan. I was horrified when he told me about it. Some people just don't have the sense to pick and choose their words and the timing of those words carefully. On top of that, (and I speak purely anecdotally) there seems to be a lot of belief in woo amongst vegans. So many of us think an apple a day is a magic bullet for everything health related. As your article points out, this unscientific thinking has consequences for all or us and for our goal of animal liberation. But I don't know of any way to combat this problem other than kindly educating others. Many refuse to hear it, but some will, so that's the best we can do to my knowledge. It is our responsibility imho. I wish you well and good health Matt. M.

Anna Winter said...

It's true - going vegan has never cured my chronic depression. But not harming animals gives me one less reason to be depressed, and I'll take everything I can get!

Unknown said...

Our diet is just a vehicle to help us get through life. Be kind to other drivers.

Unknown said...

May your body heal well. The animals need your effective voice!

Tom Y said...

LOVE YOU! Bonnie, Tom, Catharine, Daniel

Matt Ball said...

Thanks so much, Youngses!